Five Days, Three States and Two Halloweens

We moved to New Jersey earlier this year with the intention of making this much-made-fun-of state our home. We live in a nice suburb about 20 miles west of New York City and we’ve all adjusted fairly well to new schools, new roads, new grocery stores, and new daily patterns.

But one thing we didn’t really bank on was having to worry about a hurricane.

Not just any hurricane – presumably the largest hurricane “superstorm” the East Coast has ever seen. Like squirrels, we went to drug stores and food stores to gather batteries, bottled water, candles and nonperishable food. Lines were long, supplies were quickly dwindline. We hunkered down and watched the weather reports and made plans for all four of us to sleep in the living room.

The power went out around 9pm Monday night. The wind was fierce and violently rattled our dining room and living room windows throughout the night. Our 8 year old was understandably frightened. Our toddler slept like a…well, like a baby – without a care in the world. With no television or other sound to dull the outside noises, the winds made us feel alone, isolated and vulnerable. It was eerie. After living in Florida for 12 years, I had never experienced such a powerful storm. We blew out the candles and went to sleep, unsure of what destruction we’d discover in the morning.

Our youngest awoke first, as usual, around 7 a.m. Still no powers, but our cell phones and computers had been fully charged as a precaution. We had no knowledge of the level of devastation, particularly to the city and to the Jersey Shore and we had no idea how long our power outage would last.

I was able to read some news and see some photos through my intermittent access on Twitter and Facebook. The initial reports were devastating, As a news junkie, I was going through withdrawals not being able to hear the reports, see the damage, weigh the impact and put it all together to understand how it all affects me and my family.

We texted family members and friends and posted status updates when possible to let others know we were safe, but powerless.

We tried to make Tuesday fun for the girls. We played games, colored, did puzzles…all in an effort to distract them and acclimate them to what would be a new normal for a little while. Thankfully, our gas stove still worked so we could cook a few things that hadn’t yet spoiled. We phoned some friends nearby and learned that they had never lost power. They invited us over to charge our computers and phones and to let our girls play with their girls. They extended such kindness to us even though we haven’t known them very long.

That evening, the temperature dropped sharply. It was now in the upper 40s. Not yet freezing, but with no heat, it made for a chilly night. The girls were bundled up warmly, but we knew if power wasn’t restored soon, we would need to consider our options – if there were any.

Wednesday morning – day two without power. O and I ventured out to the local Dunkin Donuts hoping to get some warm breakfast and some cold milk for B. We soon discovered that our town was completely shut down. Everything was at a standstill. Power lines were down, utility poles bent near to the ground and tree branches were strewn across front yards, driveways and streets. Beautiful old trees had their roots exposed and were overturned – sometimes on land and other times on people’s homes. It was horrifying.

Our local grocery superstore was open, but offered little relief. The entire perimeter of the store, normally reserved for the fresh produce, dairy and meat items, were draped in heavy plastic with makeshift signs of plain white paper and black sharpie marker, “FOOD NOT SAFE.”

O and I bought some more nonperishable food and juice boxes and then we left.

John and I decided we needed to get the girls someplace warm. But first, we all needed a good bubble bath. 🙂

John boiled water on the gas stove and poured it into our tub. Both girls went first, then me, then John. Yes, we were a clean family, but what was next?

We opted to go back to our friends’ house to “recharge” and process our options internally.

We have the luxury of having Hilton points to cash in, but the closest Hilton – with both availability AND power – was in eastern Pennsylvania. Scranton, to be specific. And so it was decided. Off to Scranton we went.

The lady at the front desk was very helpful when we inquired about nearby neighborhoods where the girls might do some trick or treating. It was Halloween, after all, and we had brought their costumes along just in case.

Not even two miles from the hotel, we pulled into what I call a “jackpot” neighborhood – million dollar homes that were sure to give out great candy! Our little witch and our littler cupcake were dressed warmly as they carried their plastic pumpkins door to door. It was a banner night, one they’ll hopefully remember forever.

That evening, we caught our first glimpse of the news. The devastation was overwhelming. Homes destroyed. Sand and water where sidewalks and trees had once been. Amusement parks underwater. Restaurants and businesses – livelihoods – gone. It gave me anxiety to watch. It was surreal to think so much devastation had occurred in our neck of the woods. I remember feeling an almost immediate sense of gratitude for how lucky we had been. Sure, we had no power – but so many others lost everything. Simply unfathomable.

Day three with no power. We had swapped phone numbers with our neighbor who agreed to call us when the power was restored. No call came today. So, we swam in the hotel swimming pool, did some shopping at the local mall and did our best to keep the kids busy and distracted.

That evening, we had another pow-wow. How long could we stay at this hotel? Could we afford it? How long would we be without power? John flies to Atlanta on Monday out of Newark and has to be back home by Sunday night. We considered leaving Scranton and heading to my folks in Massachusetts for an indefinite amount of time. Good friends of ours in Maryland offered to let us stay with them. We found another hotel a bit closer to home and decided to put a few nights on hold.

But it was not to be. Day four with no power. Our phone rang at 730. It was our neighbor saying that power had been restored. We were so thankful. We packed up and drove home. The house was cold and empty, but at least we could put the heat on and tidy up a bit.

John had bought tickets to the Great Pumpkin Blaze near Sleepy Hollow NY a few weeks ago but it conflicted with a Girl Scout field trip. Since that trip had now been cancelled, we considered the reasons why we couldn’t take the girls to do something fun instead. We first drove through Chatham and into Madison and brought the girls to the park to let them get some fresh air and exercise. It was nice to see so many people enjoying the park.

We arrived at the Blaze around 830. It was really amazing. Hundreds and hundreds of artfully carved pumpkins of animals, sea life, dinosaurs, Celtic designs, and scary ghosts lined the winding, pebble-lined trail in the historic Hudson Valley. It was a very cool fall evening – perfect for celebrating all that is Halloween.

On the way home from the Blaze we went slightly north in New York and waited in line to get gas, since it’s at a premium in New Jersey.

Although life for many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans is still in limbo, ours has pretty much returned to normal. On Saturday, John took O to see a movie and B and I hung around doing laundry and relaxing. On the way home, John called to tell me that the town of Madison was doing trick or treating until 6. So we dressed the girls up and let them trick or treat around some lovely neighborhoods in Madison. The people handing out candy were great – many were so happy to see kids out enjoying this fun holiday, finally.

Such lucky girls. We were without power for five days, but we were able to stay at a hotel and avoid major discomforts. We hit three states – PA, NY and NJ and the girls got to wear their costumes not once, but twice this Halloween season.

I think it’s safe to say that we won’t soon forget Hurricane Sandy and the Halloween of 2012.


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